Tagore Speaks online section B2

Copyright © Christine Marsh 2016

2: Sadhana (1913)

The Upanishad says: Knowledge, power, and action are of his nature. It is because this naturalness has not yet been born in us that we tend to divide joy from work. Our day of work is not our day of joy—for that we require a holiday; for, miserable that we are, we cannot find our holiday in our work. The river finds its holiday in its onward flow, the fire in its outburst of flame, the scent of the flower in its permeation of the atmosphere; but in our everyday work there is no such holiday for us. It is because we do not let ourselves go, because we do not give ourselves joyously and entirely up to it, that our work overpowers us. (Tagore, ‘Realisation in Action’)[1]

When one encounters the complaints of Tagore’s Bengali compatriots that their greatest author is now not read enough, even in his home state, that his great projects in Santiniketan or Sriniketan are not doing well, I always ask myself whether they do not demand too much from him, and whether they are unwilling to admit that some of his projects were too grand and idealistic to be implemented. Is it not enough to know that Tagore’s heritage, taking into account what he planned and realised – and almost everything he planned was at least partly realised – appears unique for any poet in the history of the modern world, and there is hardly any composer in any major language whose songs, in such numbers, are in continuous cultural use? (Viktors Ivbulis, ‘Tagore’s Western Burdens’)[2]

The Latvian professor Viktors Ivbulis considers that Tagore was highly successful as a poet, and that even Tagore’s grandiose projects were partly realised. The Indian professor Uma Das Gupta says of Tagore’s rural reconstruction project at Sriniketan that it ‘must not be written off as a complete failure’, although his ideas ‘never received a fair trial’.[3] Similarly, she writes that Tagore’s school for boys ‘functioned beautifully’, but his university ‘destroy[ed] some of the founder’s basic hopes’ because it was obliged to ‘compromise with the country’s educational system’.[4] These two eminent Tagore scholars are implying, somewhat reluctantly, that Tagore failed at something which concerned him greatly. What that was, why it mattered to him, and how it is of interest to us today, is a theme running through the chapters of this book.

Tagore used the telling phrase ‘what has been my life’s work’ in a letter dated 28 February 1930 to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, appealing for a grant for agricultural research.[5] The ‘life’s work’ he was referring to encompassed his practical endeavours in education and rural reconstruction over almost thirty years. Tagore had written to Lord Irwin two weeks earlier, referring to the apparently favourable impression the Viceroy had received of the value of the work, during his visit to Sriniketan. Tagore explained that they had been struggling ‘almost in isolation’, not understood by ‘either our countrymen or our Government’, on such funds as Tagore could raise with his own personal efforts.[6]

Tagore’s and others’ accounts of his work show his commitment, his energy and his mixed successes and failures. As we journey through Tagore’s books of English essays, details of the projects themselves, and the obstacles Tagore was faced with, will occasionally be mentioned, but the practicalities are less important than his vision, his understanding and his stubborn faith in humanity, which inspired Tagore to persist with his projects through fifty years of his life.

Tagore’s first words in Sadhana, his first book of lecture-essays, are in his Author’s Preface: ‘Perhaps it is well for me to explain that the subject-matter of the papers published in this book has not been philosophically treated, nor has it been approached from the scholar’s point of view’. He goes on to explain that he is giving ‘western readers’ an opportunity for understanding how the ancient sacred texts of India, in particular the Upanisads which were ‘used in daily worship’ in his family, are valuable in human affairs and ‘manifested in the life of to-day’.[7] These two remarks are not logically connected: the latter does not elucidate the former. We could connect them by expressing them in a polemical style whereby Tagore declares ‘forget philosophy and scholarship! – you must live more responsibly!’

Such an interpretation is a valid one, especially if we take into account all five books showing how and in what terms Tagore spoke to the West between 1912 and 1931. Tagore caused offence with his strong and explicit polemics in the Nationalism essays of 1917, and those sentiments are expressed again, sometimes more forcibly, in four essays in Creative Unity of 1922. In the first half of the first essay of Sadhana Tagore voices some of his deeply felt criticisms of the West, but then he seems to back away to say: ‘I do not for a moment wish to suggest that these things should have been otherwise. It would be an utter waste of opportunities if history were to repeat itself exactly in the same manner in every place’.[8] In the second half of that essay he concentrates on teachings from the Upanisads, with many quotations in English translation with footnotes in Sanskrit. This tendency to change tone and topic quite abruptly is a common feature throughout the books.

Occasionally in these books Tagore repeats his confession (or declaration) that he is not a scholar or philosopher, and so it is perhaps unsurprising to find a lack of explicit argument or critique in the essays. Tagore does not consistently announce any structure, either within the essays or linking them, although structure is present if one is alert to it. We need a ‘tool kit’ to tackle Tagore’s words to the West a century ago and find what is relevant and useful today.

The first feature to note is the switching of tone and topic already mentioned, which connects with what I have called Tagore’s ‘mercurial mindedness’. The most exciting passages for today’s readers, especially for non-Bengalis new to Tagore’s work and teachings, shine out like operatic arias. The background ‘recitative’ consists mainly of gentle advice about how to live life well. This is Tagore playing the Indian guru, a role assigned to him by western readers and audiences. Looking back some years after the Sadhana lectures, Tagore saw himself as a missionary:

I know that there is a call for me to work towards the true union of East and West. I have unconsciously been getting ready for this mission. When I wrote my Sadhana lectures, I was not aware that I had been fulfilling my destiny. All through my tour I was told that my Sadhana had been of real help to my Western readers. The accident which made me translate Gitanjali and the sudden and unaccountable longing which took me over to Europe at the beginning of my fiftieth year—all combined to push me forward to a path whose destination I did not clearly know when I first took it. This, my last tour in Europe, has made it definitely known to me.[9]

We can see from this reflection that Tagore had no prior plan to convert the West to his way of thinking and action, but some intention was there. He told his students and staff that in order to ‘relate the life of our little country school with the world at large’ he was accepting the world’s invitation to travel.[10] But he was averse to planning as such, for himself and others, because of the danger of becoming trapped by organisational structures. Hence we need to follow Tagore’s journeys to understand how he came to give the lectures and how they were received.

As well as the immediate context, we need to look back on Tagore’s life prior to the journeys. In effect he brought the school with him. He often talked about it to those he met, although only once is the school made the subject of a lecture.[11] The school was a project embodying all three phases of Tagore’s ‘life’s work’: the ‘zamindari’ role of taking responsibility for those who work the land on our behalf; the ‘constructive swadeshi’ politics; and the need to educate the next generation to participate in those changes. One outcome of Tagore’s world travels was his decision to expand the school for children into a university,[12] although he had doubts about setting up an institution, which might bind him and others in its rigid structures.

The final instrument we need in order to make the most of what Tagore had to say in the English essays is a named concept or insight which we can look out for. This should be something new and valuable, a contribution we can say Tagore might yet make to addressing the challenges we face in the present century. Tagore tells us in the Preface to the last book of the series of a theme running through his lectures and essays in different countries.[13] Tagore’s own term is ‘The Religion of Man’, which is not ideal because we have to make excuses for it: the Indian word for religion is ‘dharma’ but dharma and religion don’t mean the same thing, and the Bengali for ‘Man’ is not gendered.

I have named Tagore’s key concept or theme ‘deep anthropology’. The nearest to this in western thought is the anthropology revealed by German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach in his major work The Essence of Christianity.[14] Like all western intellectuals, Feuerbach gets to be right by making his rivals’ theories and ideas wrong. This is something Tagore does not do. He criticises systems and organisational structures but not people or their cherished beliefs. He saw the Indian tradition of ‘unity in diversity’ as going beyond religious tolerance towards appreciation and delight in different interpretations of the beliefs by which human groups are held together. This benign factor and more is indicated by the word ‘deep’.

Equipped with our tool kit we are ready to accompany Tagore on his twenty-year lecture tour. But it will not be plain sailing. Tagore writes in one of his essays that the ‘introduction and conclusion of a book have a similarity of features’ in that they state the truth of the book in simple terms, whereas the body of the book ‘grows complex’ and ‘breaks itself into pieces to find itself back in a fuller unity of realization’.[15] As Tagore repeatedly journeys to foreign parts and back again, we see how his reception and reputation, together with his ambitions and his moods, shift and change. The biographical details lead to questions as often as clarification on why Tagore said and wrote what he did, but there are thematic threads leading to the ‘unity of realization’ we come to in the conclusion.

One of the notable features of Tagore’s English essays is that we find some passages ringing out passionately against a background in a lower key. In Sadhana, as in most of the books, the order of essays is similar to the sequence in which Tagore gave the corresponding lectures. We know that prepared lecture texts were sometimes made available to audience members and the press, that Tagore deviated from those texts when speaking but used them as the basis for what was published in book form, with a modicum of alteration or addition. Perhaps as a result of the impact Tagore sought to make when he was speaking, we find that the first part of the first essay in each book contains one of the specially challenging passages. Tagore begins his first lecture-essay in Sadhana, ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’ as follows:

The civilisation of ancient Greece was nurtured within city walls. In fact, all the modern civilisations have their cradles of brick and mortar.
These walls leave their mark deep in the minds of men. They set up a principle of ‘divide and rule’ in our mental outlook, which begets in us a habit of securing all our conquests by fortifying them and separating them from one another. We divide nation and nation, knowledge and knowledge, man and nature. It breeds in us a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have built, and everything has to fight hard for its entrance into our recognition.[16]

We can hear Tagore as both teacher and poet speaking. He instructs us with poetic rhythm and intensity, as if he expects a receptive interpretation from the listener or reader. As with poetry as a literary form, one can pick apart the words and express the meaning differently, perhaps more straightforwardly or usefully, but as with any analysis and synthesis, something is lost in the process, and there is the risk of taking the meaning beyond what the poet intended.

Tagore goes on to contrast the development of ancient and modern western civilisation with Indian civilisation, which had its birth in the forests: ‘surrounded by the vast life of nature, was fed and clothed by her, and had the closest and most constant intercourse with her varying aspects’. He described the beneficial effects as follows:

Having been in constant contact with the living growth of nature, [man’s] mind was free from the desire to extend his dominion by erecting boundary walls around his acquisitions. His aim was not to acquire but to realise, to enlarge his consciousness by growing with and growing into his surroundings. He felt that truth is all-comprehensive, that there is no such thing as absolute isolation in existence, and the only way of attaining truth is through the interpenetration of our being into all objects. To realise this great harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of the world was the endeavour of the forest-dwelling sages of ancient India.[17]

Tagore’s premise that walls, built structures, affect people’s minds and cause divisions in our mental outlook is supported by anthropologist Peter J. Wilson who has made a study of the ‘domestication’ of the human species. Wilson claims that the design and construction of permanent shelter, which began between fifteen and five thousand years ago, was the origin of the world of culture, including community living, political, public and private life, and that whilst it ‘may enhance the survival and well-being of people, it is also a barrier between people, and between people and the natural environment’.[18] Wilson goes on to describe societies brought together by impressive building projects, showing that walls may unite as well as divide.[19] We can find other authorities on the complex effects of city walls, such as Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?, where they observe that ‘philosophy seems to be something Greek and coincides with the contribution of cities: the formation of societies of friends or equals but also the promotion of relationships of rivalry’.[20] We might, however, be sceptical about Tagore seeming to claim that India’s origin in the forest brought about a society with fewer divisions, and indeed Tagore’s own first lecture in the West was on the subject of race conflict in India.[21]

Making comparisons and criticisms between Tagore’s lecture-essays and other writings on similar themes is one way to explore what he had to say to the West, but there is a problem with it. The anthropologist Wilson begins his book with a warning:

Anyone who writes today about tribal, peasant, rural, village, Neolithic, or domesticated societies invariably does so from the perspective of membership in an urban industrial society. This includes anthropologists as much as sociologists and historians. We write as heirs to the ambivalence felt by the sophisticated city dweller toward the bumpkins of the romantic countryside; it is as inheritors of civilized barbarism that we look upon the noble savage.[22]

Wilson goes on to mention a tendency for writers to view developments in the past as precursors to present society, as if the latter were the highest stage. Tagore does not take such a view. Nor does he adopt the contrary position of seeing the past as superior, as a golden age. The pattern he sees in prehistory through to historic times is one of evolution and progress up to a certain point, and then in the ‘modern age’ humanity takes a wrong turning, led by the West but dragging Asia after it. It is not easy to explain why Tagore took such a view. One cannot say that his attitude was for or against the West, the British, or even the Raj itself. One of his biographers repeats a quip which Tagore made in old age about himself: that ‘inconsistency’ had been both his greatest failing and his best quality.[23] The most productive way to understand Tagore’s position is to take the plunge, go on his travels with him to see what happened and why, and listen again to what he said to his western audiences and readers. The biographical and background details supplement our reading of the lecture texts, and the theme I have named ‘deep anthropology’ emerges and retreats by turns, and finally comes through.

At this point, rather than continuing to interpret the text of Sadhana, we turn to the background, how Tagore came to write these words, give the lectures and publish the book. Sadhana was published in 1913, the year in which Tagore’s Gitanjali was reprinted no less than thirteen times. Some reviewers at the time saw Sadhana as the prose counterpart to the devotional poetry of Gitanjali, and suggested they should be studied side by side. [24] In 2011, as part of the celebrations marking Tagore’s one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary year, his English translator William Radice published a new version of the Gitanjali collection, with an extensive introduction and notes.[25] Radice summarises the well-known story of how Gitanjali emerged as a published book, and made Tagore, arguably, into ‘the most famous writer in the world’.[26]

I am by no means a specialist in Tagore’s poetry. I have read and appreciated many of Tagore’s poems included in Radice’s, and also Ketaki Kushari Dyson’s, selections of their own translations from the original Bengali into English.[27] I found the religiosity of the Gitanjali collection rendered into English by Tagore himself off-putting. I own a copy of the thirteenth printing of Gitanjali in 1913, which intriguingly has most of the pages uncut, as if the previous owner was hardly interested beyond W.B. Yeats’s Introduction, and I have left it that way. I also have a copy of Gitanjali included in Collected Poems and Plays which was the version Radice used for his study.[28]

It was a revelation to me to learn from Radice how much W.B. Yeats had interfered with the fair copy Tagore had made of his translations in the surviving notebook which he gave to William Rothenstein. Yeats completely changed the sequence of the poems for no obvious reason, and Radice claims that the set in the Rothenstein notebook was arranged intentionally, and in a good way, by Tagore when he copied it from his rough drafts. I have noted the unannounced structure in Tagore’s English essays, so I am aware that such an arrangement was Tagore’s usual practice. Radice also criticises Yeats for breaking Tagore’s prose poems into paragraphs and introducing punctuation which interrupts the flow of words, with the result that the poems were given a sonorous Biblical tone. Radice connects this effect with some of the poems being adopted by the Unitarian Church as hymns, and he mentions Tagore’s connection with the Unitarians through the Brahmo Samaj, the reformed Hinduism founded by Rammohan Roy and later taken up and further developed by Tagore’s father Devendranath. That part of Radice’s account of what happened to Gitanjali is relevant to the history of Sadhana, which also has a connection with the Unitarian Church.

The year 1912, when Tagore first delivered the Sadhana lectures in America, and 1913 when the book was published, marked a major turning point in Tagore’s life, largely due to the collection of devotional song lyrics published as the English Gitanjali, whence his award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and his knighthood in 1915. Tagore enjoyed a few years of fame after that, but even those years were full of misunderstandings.

The most damaging area of misunderstanding arose from the public’s insistence on Tagore’s identity as Indian saint and mystic. This came about by a series of accidents, such as Indian students in London claiming that Tagore was a ‘poet and saint of Bengal’, which was not without foundation but was misleading.[29] Tagore was not an Indian sannyasi, an ascetic who shuns a world he sees as maya (illusion). He had retreated to his father’s ashram in rural Bengal to set up a very lively school there, which did indeed have a spiritual basis, but with a spirituality which was fully engaged with active life.[30] The coincidences which reinforced the ‘saint and mystic’ identity include the way Gitanjali was received and became a popular bestseller, and the photographs and reporting of Tagore’s saintly image: his face, his clothing and his voice. The theological subject matter and the reception of the Sadhana lectures, and Tagore’s apparent acceptance of the Indian guru role, were further confirmation.

These superficial media events brought about one kind of misunderstanding of Tagore, which acts as a contextual thread running through the story of Sadhana. There were also wider, cultural misunderstandings affecting Tagore’s reception, such as references to ‘East’ and ‘West’ and their derivatives, including Tagore’s own usage of such terms, which I discuss next. Linked to that is the subject of reformed Hinduism, and Tagore’s family background in the Brahma Samaj, a monotheistic Hindu religious society, which came about due to western influences in the nineteenth century. Tagore moved away from organised religion towards his own universalist social and religious understandings, with Sadhana marking a turning point in that process. I discuss aspects of traditional Hinduism, and show how Hindu ‘modes of worship (sadhana)’ can help to account for differences in the way Tagore was perceived at home and abroad. Then I consider the effect of Tagore’s social and political commitments on his writings, such that he produced and reworked collections of short pieces of poetry and prose, of which Gitanjali and Sadhana are important examples. Lastly I come to the story of the Sadhana lectures themselves and the reception of the book. All the factors I discuss are touched on by Tagore in his ‘Author’s Preface’ to Sadhana, which provides intriguing details about the poet, his family and his school, and was the subject of many comments when the book appeared.

The writer has been brought up in a family where texts of the Upanishads are used in daily worship; and he has had before him the example of his father, who lived his long life in the closest communion with God, while not neglecting his duties to the world, or allowing his keen interest in all human affairs to suffer any abatement. So in these papers, it may be hoped, western readers will have an opportunity of coming into touch with the ancient spirit of India as revealed in our sacred texts and manifested in the life of to-day.[31]

Ideas of East and West

Krishna Dutta, one of Tagore’s biographers, has written about her childhood in Calcutta a few years after Tagore’s death, when the Poet was ‘an ever-present, massive cultural icon’.[32] Fifteen years ago, Amartya Sen wrote of Tagore’s ‘commanding presence in Bengali literature and his near-total eclipse in the rest of the world’.[33] Since then, despite more and better translations of Tagore’s works having appeared, Sen’s comment that ‘he is not much read now in the West’ probably still holds true beyond Tagore enthusiasts and some academic and intellectual circles.[34] In the introduction to one of his collections of Tagore’s poetry newly translated into English, Radice has described Tagore as a ‘one-man counter-culture [...] within his own society just as much, if not more so, than he was in the West’.[35] When Radice refers to ‘the West’ we know what he means, but he does not refer to ‘the East’, because Tagore’s country was a ‘complex hybrid culture’ out of which Tagore chose only certain elements.[36]

At the time of the Gitanjali-Sadhana episode, and also later in Tagore’s international career, there was talk of him bringing Eastern spirituality as a remedy for Western materialism. In 1912-13 such an East-West binary, while simplistic, was not without foundation, and Tagore sometimes spoke in those terms, despite the criticism at home that he was too positively disposed towards the West.

Tagore relates in some of his autobiographical writings how, in their youth, he and his siblings had always cultivated the Bengali language, literature and culture,[37] and were also enthusiastic about British literature. He describes how they schemed in a secret and ineffectual way to rescue India from British rule, and how they put on a Hindu festival with the song ‘Victory to India’.[38] In Asian Ideas of East and West, Stephen Hay writes about Tagore, when aged only fourteen, composing and reading poems at the Hindu Fair in 1875, which was organised by his older brothers and other ‘cultural nationalists’. Hay then quotes an extract from an essay Tagore wrote three years later for the family magazine Bharati:

If the remnants of Indian civilization were to become the foundation on which European civilization is to be built, what a most beautiful sight that would be! The European idea in which freedom predominates, and the Indian idea in which welfare predominates; the profound thought of the Eastern countries and the active thought of the Western countries; European acquisitiveness and the Indian conservatism; the imagination of the Eastern countries and the practical intelligence of the West—what a fullness will emerge from a synthesis of these two. (Tagore, 1878)[39]

To the end of his life Tagore pondered on such character differences between peoples of the East and the West, and theorised about how they came about. As we have noted, in the first essay in Sadhana, he suggests that the cause was the ‘city walls’ of western civilisation which ‘leave their mark deep in the minds of men’, whereas the civilisation of India was born in the forests, and even when ‘wealthy cities sprang up’, India was inspired by the ideals rooted in its beloved forests:

Mighty kingdoms were established, which had communications with all the great powers of the world. But even in the heyday of its material prosperity the heart of India ever looked back with adoration upon the early ideal of strenuous self-realisation, and the dignity of the simple life of the forest hermitage, and drew its best inspiration from the wisdom stored there. [40]

In 1912 when Tagore came to England, he was inclined to regard the West in positive and complementary terms – expecting the West in turn to appreciate what the East had to offer. The key phrase in the 1878 quotation where Tagore’s later practical projects are concerned is ‘the Indian idea in which welfare predominates’, but in 1912 he was not offering that idea for consideration by the West. He was bringing ‘the profound thought of the Eastern countries’.

Hay gives the impression in Asian Ideas of East and West that the people of Asia were more interested in the West, and in East-West relations, than the people of Europe and America were interested in the East. (There were of course individuals in the West who were keenly interested in the East, and Hay goes on to show that there was no pan-Asian view of the West that Tagore hoped to find on his visits to Japan, China and India some years later.) One can make a corresponding generalisation from comments reported in the British press on the Gitanjali poems that the West was of the opinion that ‘the profound thought of the Eastern countries’ originated in the West, to such an extent that the comment has been made that Tagore was ‘robbed of his Indianness’, by being categorized by western critics as an Oriental profoundly influenced by European literature, Christianity and Western mysticism.[41]

There was some truth in this. Hay points out that ‘cultural nationalists’ like the Tagore family, were inspired to reclaim and revive Indian culture by the interest British rulers had taken in it, initially for commercial reasons, to facilitate taking over administration from the Mughals, and then western orientalist scholars took an interest in Indian philosophy and religion too.[42] This powerful process has been called a ‘pizza effect’, whereby a cultural dish is exported and then returned home.[43]

It was always Tagore’s hope that East and West should come together, but for such a hope to make any sense, there have to be complementary differences, with identifiable mutual benefits. This does not mean that Tagore always saw those differences in the positive terms of the 1878 quotation. To mark the last day of the nineteenth century, he wrote a poem which begins as follows:

The last sun of the century sets amidst the
blood-red clouds of the West and the
whirlwind of hatred.
The naked passion of self-love of Nations, in its
drunken delirium of greed, is dancing to the
clash of steel and the howling verses of vengeance.[44]

Tagore did not reserve his critical passion for the West, as the next quotation from an address to a group of Brahmo (reformed Hinduism) students shows:

At every turn—in her laws and customs, in her religious and social institutions—India today deceives and insults herself. That is why the meeting of East and West on our soil fails to attain fulfilment. The contact yields nothing but pain. Even if we succeed in pushing out the British by one means or another, this pain will be there; it cannot go until an inner harmony between the two is achieved. Then alone will East and West unite in India; country with country, race with race, knowledge with knowledge, endeavour with endeavour. Then alone will the present chapter of India’s history come to its end and a new one start—one of the noblest in the story of Man. (Tagore, ‘East and West’, 1908)[45]

In 1904 Tagore addressed a public meeting in Calcutta assembled to discuss a Government resolution on the problem of water scarcity in Bengal.[46] The subject of his lecture, ‘Swadeshi Samaj’, published in English as ‘Society and State’, was how Indian rural society differed from the nation state as it operated in England. He began by making the point that in their own country, rulers waged wars and defended their territory, but everything else ‘from the supply of water to the supply of knowledge’ was traditionally provided by society operating at local community level. In contrast ‘England relegates to State care all the welfare services in the country; India did that only to a very limited extent’.[47]

I have mentioned some of Tagore’s earlier writings on East and West to indicate that he had a well-formed understanding of the situation in India prior to 1912. Sisir Kumar Das, editor of the comprehensive collection of Tagore’s English Writings, provides an indication of the breadth of Tagore’s interests:

From the very beginning of his literary career Tagore took a great interest in political and social and religious activities in India and abroad, and by 1912, before his third visit to Europe, he had already assumed the stature of a seminal thinker in Bengal. His activities were not confined within the pensive citadels of art, they went beyond ‘poetry and his school’. International recognition did not change but only extended his activities. Most important is the fact that Tagore did not find any contradiction between his artistic activities and his other social commitments. Nonetheless they did create a tension, an unending one, in his life. From time to time he would cry out in exasperation: ‘I am only a poet.’ But the truth was he was not only a poet.[48]

Because Tagore was seen as poet and mystic during that crucial third visit to the West, he missed what might have been an opportunity for presenting his critique of the nation and nationalism in knowledgeable and constructive terms.[49] Instead, when Nationalism was published in 1917, his critique was dismissed as ‘The Protest of a Seer’ who, according to the reviewer, gives no answer to the question: ‘what Sir Rabindranath would like to substitute for the present regime in India, or how the economic needs of mankind are now to be supplied without a complex industrial organization’.[50]

The essay ‘Society and State’ is particularly relevant to understanding the rationale behind Tagore’s efforts to restore Indian society, through his rural reconstruction and education initiatives. His purpose was to set an example he hoped the rest of India would follow, such that its society would again be made up of self-reliant, thriving village communities, a form of social change which is today associated with the Transition Movement,[51] and can be aligned with postmodern Marxist analyses of the potential for reviving rural economies.[52] For Tagore in his lifetime this work was as much a religious mission as a social one, and so I now consider Tagore’s religious background, before discussing the effect of the tension Das alludes to had on his writings, and then how his image as Indian mystic was reinforced by the reception of Sadhana, the lectures and then the book.

Reformed and Traditional Hinduism

Tagore liked to say that his background was a confluence of three cultures, Hindu, Mohammedan and British.[53] Tagore’s father, the ‘Maharshi’ (great sage) Devendranath Tagore, was the spiritual heir of the visionary Raja Rammohun Roy, who developed the Brahma Samaj, a form of monotheistic reformed Hinduism, with Christian Unitarian and Sufi influences. Devendranath related in his autobiography that he sought a ‘relation with God as that of worshipper and worshipped’,[54] and he found that he had to devise new religious texts to support the Brahma Dharma, and he also reformed the Brahma Samaj, the society which administered the membership and congregational worship.[55] A study of worship in Hinduism by Anuradha Roma Choudhury shows that traditional Hinduism is not formalised and regulated in that way. Hindu temples are not places for congregational worship: there are no specified places for worship, which takes place at shrines in the home, at roadside shrines and in sacred places.[56] Tagore himself delighted in and revered the natural world all his life, and saw his whole country as a sacred place:

The geographical entity, that is India, appears from the earliest times to have roused in its people the desire to realise the unity comprised within its natural boundaries. In the Mahabharata we find the bringing together of its traditional memories scattered over different times and places; and, in the institution of systematic pilgrimages to the various sacred places dotted over its entire expanse, we discern the process of capturing a complete picture of its physical features within the net of a common devotion.[57]

Tagore often reminisced about his boyhood and youth. He said that his childhood ‘was not regulated by any ancient sacramental laws’, and he recalled how his father having come ‘under the influence of Ram Mohan Roy’ helped him free himself from rigid sectarian barriers and traditions.[58] In his later life Tagore insisted that he had been unaffected by any religion whatever: ‘It was through an idiosyncrasy of my temperament that I refused to accept any religious teaching merely because people in my surroundings believed it to be true’.[59] This is perhaps an example of Tagore’s inconsistency, given that his biographers relate that Tagore was involved in the Brahma Samaj when he was a young man, and he composed hymns and wrote articles propagating his father’s faith.[60] Tagore may have rejected organised religion, but he was interested in religious ideas, and by 1930 he had devised a set of understandings he called ‘The Religion of Man’.[61] In Sadhana, he uses verses from the Upanisads, a collection of ancient spiritual texts which sets out a ‘system of intelligent monism’,[62] from which Tagore derived his own personalistic variant of traditional Advaita.[63]

Tagore’s religious thought is an example of the ‘plastic nature’ of India’s spiritual culture, the ‘omnivorous capacity’ of Hinduism which ‘baffles all attempts at definition’,[64] and one frequently encounters comments that Hinduism is not a religion at all. Govind Das stated in his book on Hinduism that it ‘is really an anthropological process to which, by a strange irony of fate, the name of religion has been given’,[65] a view which Tagore would have shared, given his interest in the evolution of man and society.[66] Choudhury writes that: ‘[t]he concept of worship in Hinduism is as varied as the many facets of the religion itself. Hinduism cannot even be called a religion in the formal Western sense.’[67]

Choudhury describes four ‘modes of worship (sadhana)’ in Hinduism, two of which are particularly relevant to understanding Tagore: ‘karma-yoga: the path of enlightenment through work’ and ‘jnana-yoga: the path of enlightenment through knowledge or intellectual pursuit’.[68] (The term yoga means union of body and mind, and also the union of the individual soul with the Universal or Absolute Soul.[69]) Tagore’s practice can be understood as karma-yoga at home and jnana-yoga abroad, which has some correspondence to the different understandings of the role of religion in the East and in the West. This distinction is far from clear cut, however, due to the development of a Western-style variant of Hinduism in the nineteenth century. Reformed Hinduism shunned the rich iconography, ritual practices and oral tradition of the original Hinduism, in favour of a theistic religion focussed on written scripture. Western orientalists played a part in the Hindu Reformation, with their genuine interest as scholars overlaid by an assumed intellectual superiority, leading to their culpability in what Edward Said referred to as ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having an authority over the Orient’.[70]

An Indian philosophical scholarship developed in response to the interest taken by orientalists from the West, thence a dialogue between Indian and western scholars. An outcome of that dialogue, timed to coincide with the Government of India Act of 1935, which was seen as a ‘gigantic political experiment’ towards the transfer of power to Indian nationals, was a volume of essays on Contemporary Indian Philosophy prepared for a prestigious international series on the History of Philosophy.[71] This was headed by contributions by Gandhi and Tagore, ‘in consideration of their worldwide fame in fields other than that of technical philosophy’, with further entries in alphabetical order. Gandhi was not ‘tempted by the questionnaire sent to him’ by the editors,[72] and his entry was a single page. In answer to the question ‘What is your Religion?’ he wrote: ‘My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is Religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me’.[73] Tagore might have said just the same as Gandhi. Instead he contributed a lengthy essay entitled ‘The Religion of an Artist’,[74] which bears no resemblance in style or substance to the learned contributions made by Swami Abhedananda, President of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Calcutta, and other eminent Indian scholars. This is relevant to a subject I come to shortly, which is how Tagore’s identity as a poet and mystic, who is ‘neither a scholar nor a philosopher’,[75] is reflected in his method of writing.

After Independence, the Ministry of Education in India compiled its own History of Philosophy Eastern and Western. This has occasional references to Gandhi but no entry on his philosophy or religion. There is a short passage on Tagore’s metaphysics, which says that ‘Tagore is a monist, though he does not deny the reality of the world [... ] and does not regard it as a product of maya or illusion’, and that Tagore considers that ‘Reality is best understood as the supreme Person [and] Tagore’s absolutism is, therefore, personalistic’.[76]

In 1912 when Tagore composed the Sadhana lectures, he had moved away from formal religion, and was not interested in reaching any clear theological position, not even on the key distinction in Hinduism between monism and theism.[77] Some western observers may have been open to considering Tagore as an Indian intellectual, other commentators admired his poetry but were dismissive of his philosophy. Ezra Pound, in a private letter, wrote: ‘As a religious teacher he (Tagore) is superfluous [... and] his philosophy hasn’t much in it [...] So long as he sticks to poetry he can be defended [... but] there’s no use his repeating the Vedas and other stuff that’s been translated.’[78]

I mentioned earlier the Hindu terminology for ‘modes of worship (sadhana)’, one of which is ‘jnana-yoga: the path of enlightenment through knowledge or intellectual pursuit’. That is the kind of path which western intellectuals who were interested in Tagore’s ideas would have expected him to be following. In the latter half of his life Tagore went on many lecturing tours around the world, but most of his time was spent at home, in his school and ashram at Santiniketan, where he had an active, productive life, engaged in ‘karma-yoga: the path of enlightenment through work’. He was teacher and preacher. He created the lyrics and the melodies for countless songs, and sang them with his students. He wrote plays and also acted in them, devised dance dramas and danced, wrote and told many stories, always involving his staff and students.[79]

Tagore’s Method of Writing

It was probably not easy for Tagore to achieve a balance between his active work and the detachment needed for creative writing, as Tagore expressed in one of his many published ‘Thoughts’:

Just as it does not do to have a writer entirely removed from the feeling to which he is giving expression, so also it does not conduce to the truest poetry to have him too close to it. Memory is the brush which can best lay on the true poetic color. Nearness has too much of the compelling about it, and the imagination is not sufficiently free unless it can get away from its influence.[80]

There is support for Tagore experiencing such a difficulty in Radice’s introduction to Particles, Jottings, Sparks, his translation of three books of Tagore’s ‘brief poems’. Radice begins by considering the question of why Tagore never wrote an epic, quoting Tagore as blaming this wittily on his essentially lyrical muse:

I had been toying
with the thought of writing
An epic —
Stumbling at the jingle
Of your anklets and bangles,
My musings were shattered
Into songs innumerable:
Through that mishap
My epic was scattered
As particles
Round your feet.
I had been toying
With the thought of writing
An epic….[81]

Radice suggests that these lines reflect Tagore’s ‘desire to achieve purnata or “fullness” on an almost cosmic scale [...] not in a single great work but in an endless stream of smaller ones’.[82] He goes on to describe the ‘big in small’ content in the poems which Tagore called kabitika, which would be ‘poemlet’ in English. Radice says that these fragments were Tagore’s outbursts of feelings ‘when he felt burdened by all the responsibilities and activities he took on to himself’.[83]

Radice has voiced his opinion about Tagore scholarship today, which is that too much attention is paid to Tagore’s ideas and not enough to his poetry.[84] Scholars who are more interested in Tagore’s ideas and practical projects might counter Radice’s view by wondering how it was that Tagore wrote so much poetry, a great deal of it in thousands of fragments. In 1904, in one of his rare autobiographical pieces, Tagore suggests he had ‘no control’ over his poetry writing:

When I look back on this process of my writing poetry for so long I can see this clearly – it’s a business over which I have had no control. When I was writing, I thought, it is I who am writing, but now I know that’s not true. Because these poems are fragments and in them the significance of the whole body of the poetry is incomplete. And what that significance was I had no idea. I had been adding one poem to another, blind to the consequence. The little meaning of each one I imagined I saw as a given point. Now taking them as a whole I see well enough that a single continuous significance flowed through them all.[85]

As this piece continues, no point to it all emerges: ‘the poetry remained a riddle and the life likewise’.[86] It is as if poetry writing for him was a compulsive life-long habit. His colleague Leonard Elmhirst, who accompanied Tagore on his travels in 1924 and 1925, related in a journal entry how on one of the ocean voyages, he used to help the Poet, who had been unwell, to sit up in his bunk each morning to write a poem, before which he could not engage with any other matters.[87] From Tagore’s two autobiographies about his boyhood and youth, one can see that a child psychologist might say that this lonely child wrote poems to get attention. Radice hazards a counterpart to that, with his footnote about critics and biographers being ‘shy of probing Tagore’s psychology’, and then referring to an exception to this in a book by Manasi Dasgupta ‘which sees Tagore’s unrelenting efforts in the practical sphere as stemming partly from fear of his father’s disapproval of purely literary activity’.[88]

Thousands of Tagore’s poems in manuscript have been collected, originally by himself and by servants and staff, family members, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, and are now preserved in archives. An enormous number of his poems have been published in magazines and in books. Tagore’s other literary writings were also collected, published and archived, as were his many addresses and lectures. There are also collections of his paintings and photo archives. Tagore scholars draw on these resources, and Das Gupta mentions in particular Visva-Bharati’s Rabindra-Bhavana Archives, a ‘national treasure trove’, maintained by ‘a great team of self-taught bibliographers’.[89]

Some commentators have suggested that this hoarding of Tagore’s work is not altogether a good thing, including the Poet himself, with a verse Radice quotes:

Why fill your bags with my every verbal scrap?
Things that belong to the dust should be left to drop.[90]

Edward Thompson, commenting on Tagore’s life and work in 1921, said that Tagore ‘has written a great deal too much’,[91] and Ashis Nandy wrote in 1999 that some of Tagore’s work is mediocre and dated, and that a ‘leaner and a less flabby Tagore has a better chance of survival as a relevant creative mind in the rest of the world in the twenty-first century’.[92]

Tagore’s copious output of short pieces of poetry and prose was a ‘treasure trove’ for his own use. Amiya Chakravarty wrote in his introduction to a section on ‘Philosophical Meditations’ in A Tagore Reader that the texts of the Sadhana lectures came from Tagore’s collection of ‘Thought Relics’. When a book of these prose fragments (103 in the first edition, 192 in the second) were published by Macmillan in 1921, it did not receive much attention from critics.[93] From the point of view of Tagore’s literary reputation, it was probably a mistake to publish such a collection, and it may have appeared as part of the many efforts by Tagore and his colleagues to keep money from royalties coming in to help fund his projects.

It is possible that Tagore’s method of composition for a religious work such as Sadhana is connected to him being primarily an indigenous Romantic in his thought processes and writing. This is born out by observations made by Ivbulis in an article entitled ‘Only Western influence?: The birth of literary Romantic aesthetics in Bengal’.[94] Ivbulis’ argument links interestingly to Radice’s comment about Tagore’s country being a ‘complex hybrid culture’ out of which Tagore chose certain elements. Ivbulis suggests that Tagore’s Romanticism derived from indigenous sources which may, by a circuitous route via Germany, have affected the English Romantics whom Western critics assumed had been influences on Tagore. In his conclusion Ivbulis writes:

[I]t is hardly possible to discuss 19th century Bengali literature without employing terms which originate in Europe. Using them, one can say that the century began with a struggle between the newly born rationalist (Enlightenment) tendencies and the traditional religious irrationalism, but beginning in approximately the 1870s new approaches could be seen. [...]
Even powerful outside influences alone do not make one a Romanticist or realist or modernist. We maintain that both Biharilal Chakravarty and Rabindranath Tagore and a few other lesser known poets became Romanticists due to historic circumstances of mainly indigenous character. Their imagination must have been unconsciously fed by traditional, very ancient Indian ideas on the status of art and the artist, on nature and a person’s unity with it, and the unity of arts and of mythology, religion and philosophy.[95]

This penetrating examination of the influences on Tagore suggests that he was not primarily a conceptual thinker or a rationalist. This is confirmed by Tagore himself, in his many statements in his essays that he is not a scholar or a philosopher. It may be that Tagore tended to write prose the way a poet does, by linking streams of thought fragments, including those gleaned from his notebooks, and was not inclined to rework these into arguments with complex structures.[96] This could help explain why Tagore never wrote a book with a full and coherent account of his practical projects, so that, as Das Gupta has said, much of his thinking on this work has to be pieced together from occasional comments.[97] As well as piecemeal writings, there are substantial essays such as ‘Society and State’ and ‘City and Village’, in which Tagore describes the traditional village-based society of India which the British Raj disrupted and he worked to revive.[98]

Tagore’s interest in re-building self-reliance in the villages began in the 1890s when his father, the Maharshi Devendranath, put his dreamy, poetic youngest son in charge of the family estates in East Bengal. The next decision point was Tagore’s own, when he decided, as K.R. Kripalani has put it: ‘to adopt the vocation of a schoolmaster—the latest among the despised castes of India’, and in 1901 established a small school at the place where the great sage, his father, ‘used to sit and meditate on the One Eternal’.[99] Tagore had a short-lived adventure into the campaign against the Partition of Bengal in 1905, which distracted him briefly from his work at the school. In 1913 Tagore bought some land not far from his school with a view to resuming work on village welfare.[100] So in May 1912, it was simply as Bengali poet-schoolmaster that Tagore bid his students and staff farewell before his life-changing voyage to England.

It is a century since Tagore set out on that journey, with no incentive apart from his feeling that the world was inviting ‘all two hundred’ of them, and only he could go.[101] As Chakravarty explains, Tagore took with him a collection of short passages from his weekly discourses he had delivered at the prayer hall in Santiniketan, and started translating them when he was in the United States for his lectures, and they were published as Sadhana in 1913.[102]

The Three Sadhanas

The book of essays, Sadhana: The Realisation of Life, was first published in October 1913,[103] but that was at least its third incarnation. Tagore’s son, Rathindranath, describes his father writing the chapters of Sadhana in Urbana in America,[104] although we suspect that Tagore was actually translating from Bengali into English some of the short writings from the discourses at his school, and the idea of a book with that title came several months later.

According to the ‘Chronicle’ of Tagore’s life, father and son arrived in New York on 28 October 1912, and in November and December, Tagore ‘deliver[ed] a series of discourses on metaphysical topics at [the] Unity Club’.[105] Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, in their biography Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, make the intriguing observation that Tagore had been nervous of ‘appearing comical speaking in English’, but yielded to the request by the small club of Unitarians, which gave him the confidence to lecture at Harvard. They add that Tagore gave the same lectures in London the following May and June, and that after revision by Ernest Rhys (to whom the book is dedicated), they were published as Sadhana: The Realisation of Life.[106]

In the ‘Author’s Preface’ to Sadhana, Tagore says that the subject-matter of the book ‘has not been philosophically treated [...] from a scholar’s point of view’, and that the papers were ‘culled’ from talks to the students from his school. Tagore’s modesty may have contributed to the rather condescending reviews of the book, which we shall come to. But knowing that he took the lecture texts from talks to his beloved boys indicates that they had been moving and lively addresses.[107] Furthermore, despite Tagore’s supposed insecurity about his speaking in English, his personality: ‘his figure, his countenance, and the quality of his voice’, as Amiya Chakravarty, Tagore’s literary secretary from 1921 to 1933, put it, was very appealing to audiences.[108] In his Biographical Study of Tagore, Ernest Rhys describes Tagore’s Sadhana addresses as follows:

Rabindranath Tagore has that unexplainable grace as a speaker which holds an audience without effort, and his voice has curiously impressive, penetrating tones in it when he exerts it at moments of eloquence.[109]

Tagore dedicated the book to Rhys and thanked him in his preface ‘for his kindness in helping [...] with suggestions and revisions, and in going through the proofs’.[110] From the comprehensive compilation of press reports published as Imagining Tagore: Rabindranath and the British Press (1912-1941), we have the full texts of the lectures Tagore gave in Caxton Hall in London from 24 May to 28 June 1913, as reported in the weekly papers The Inquirer and The Westminster Gazette.[111] The series of lectures Tagore gave under the auspices of the Quest Society was entitled ‘The Search for God’, rather than ‘Sadhana’. (Sadhana was also the name Tagore gave to a magazine he edited and contributed much of the material to in the 1890s, a feature of which was ‘its eager interest in the latest science of every kind’.[112]) Not all of the six lectures were reported in full by both papers, but when there were two reports, we can see from the wording being identical in the main, that the texts must have been provided to the representatives from the press, who added their own introductions to Tagore, and observations about the events, for example, ‘a deeply attentive and crowded audience’ at the second lecture.[113]

Comparing the reported lecture texts with the essays in Sadhana shows that the lectures correspond closely to six of the essays, the first to the fifth and the last. The only major difference in general is that the lecture texts were shorter than the essays, with portions of the ends curtailed, presumably to meet time constraints, but the beginnings are very much the same. The detailed differences between the lecture texts and the essays are interesting, because presumably they reflect the ‘suggestions and revisions’ made by Rhys during the interval between the May and June lectures and the publication of Sadhana later that year. In my judgement, the later wording is not an improvement on the original. For all Tagore’s shyness about speaking in public in English, all the indications are that his use of the language for this kind of extra-literary writing was fine. He obviously appreciated Rhys’s support and friendship, but he did not need his help.

Rhys may have been completely innocent of any condescension towards Tagore, but one is reminded of the rumours that Gitanjali was only made acceptable through the revisions made by W.B. Yeats,[114] and also by Ezra Pound.[115] Edward Thompson adds to this an anecdote about a woman who believed C.F. Andrews was joint author of Gitanjali.[116] From the introduction and notes to Radice’s new Gitanjali we have a better understanding of what Yeats did to the set of prose poems Tagore brought with him to England. In Radice’s view Yeats’s changes were detrimental, and do seem to indicate condescension along with enthusiasm. When Yeats declared that his blood was stirred by ‘these prose translations’, what he had in mind was his own reading of the poems, not the collection as written by Tagore.[117] Thompson praises the ‘extreme beauty and flexibility’ of Tagore’s English, notwithstanding the few slips he made with his use of the articles and prepositions, and occasional misuse of idiom. Thompson also says that, while the success of Gitanjali was well deserved, grave mistakes were made with other literary works subsequently translated into English for publication.[118]

As we shall see from the account which follows, there is evidence from press reports and reviews that the ideas Tagore put forward in his lectures, and then in the printed essays of Sadhana, were not understood. In my view, this was not due to any inadequacy in Tagore’s English, but to the way he was perceived. As Thompson wrote, after Gitanjali ‘the word had gone round that [Tagore] was “a mystic”’ and his fate was sealed.[119] His western audiences and readers seem to have insisted that there was mysticism in all Tagore wrote, and the preface to Sadhana may have contributed to such an expectation. The Sadhana essays are religious or spiritual discourses, but they are not ‘mystical’, if that is understood to mean mysterious and obscure. In 1931, in his preface to The Religion of Man, Tagore refers to the ‘one theme’ running through the lectures he gave during his foreign travels.[120] Tagore’s ‘unity of inspiration’ is bound up with his practical projects in education and rural reconstruction, and could interest readers today who would not generally be drawn to religious writings.[121]

The perspective I am interested in now is how the ideas might have been understood by people ‘from the West’ in 1913 when the book was published. There is valuable information on the reception of Tagore and his works more generally in Alex Aronson’s Rabindranath Through Western Eyes (1943). Chakravarty wrote a preface to Aronson’s book, which provides some justification for using press reports as part of literary criticism:

New literary criticism, quickened by a social conscience, is turning to the context of daily events for a revaluation of creative work. Art is being tested as an expression of contemporaneous trends; the main emphasis is laid on the economic and political cross-currents which, according to this school, determine the products of a civilisation. Popular responses to an author, as revealed in the press of different countries, are regarded as serious evidence, rather than changing side-lights, in literary assessment.[122]

The editors of Imagining Tagore add to that how the Press actually forms those popular responses, as follows:

[T]here is no doubt that the Press is important and influential. It is the accumulation of perceptions over time that their day to day columns survey, establish and get etched in the public mind and remain embedded in historical consciousness. Media, to a great extent, reflect and mould public policy, public understanding and public attitude. The press cuttings are historical documents of a particular time and milieu.[123]

The Publisher’s Note highlights what an opportunity the comprehensive collection provides for ‘scholars and general readers alike’ to form their own views of Tagore’s encounter with the West.[124] What is valuable for the present study is to compare how Sadhana was reviewed in the British press with the enthusiastic reception of Gitanjali and Tagore himself.

There were no further press comments on Tagore’s lectures after the full reports in the two papers referred to earlier. After the last of these on 28 June, there were reports of performances of The Post Office, which was seen as a ‘barely definable’ allegory, not a drama but an elusive, symbolic ‘poetic and conversational fragment’ by the ‘Hindu author’, and also a ‘pathetic fantasy’,[125] expressions which are evidently a reflection of Tagore being seen then as the Indian mystic. This play has subsequently proved to be one of Tagore’s most loved works, and of enduring interest to scholars and dramatists.[126] After that, reviews of The Gardener appeared. Tagore had brought out the latter to present a different aspect of his work from the devotional collection which led to his designation as ‘poet and mystic’. The reviews are generally favourable, but with some concerns about prettiness, dreaminess and ‘the charm of the Oriental imagination’. A mention of the ‘meditative figure’ of the poet indicates that Tagore’s identity as the Indian mystic persists. One reviewer seeks a ‘spiritual intention’, and finds The Gardener reminding him of the ‘Song of Solomon’, for which ‘sanctity has discovered a theological interpretation’.[127] The next reviewer takes the position adopted by many on Gitanjali that Tagore’s ‘inspiration derived from Western rather than Eastern sources – as would only be natural in one born into the Brahmo-Somaj – are fully justified by this new volume’.[128]

The publication date of Sadhana was October 1913 but no reviews appeared in the British Press until December. On 14 November 1913 there were no less than sixteen press reports of Tagore’s award of the Nobel prize for Literature, with the first one included in Imagining Tagore headed ‘Nobel Prize for Bengali “Prophet”’.[129] Other reports of the Nobel prize award included reprises of Tagore’s life, work and reputation, including a lengthy piece by Rhys.[130] Reports of the Nobel continued appearing until the end of November when The Crescent Moon was reviewed appreciatively. Finally, on 6 December, in The Birmingham Daily Post, we have the first mention of Sadhana, the book, as one item in a lengthy survey of Tagore’s English writings, which had ‘overflowed to the European continent’.[131] Several more reviews and comments on Sadhana appeared in the press in 1914, the last on 14 August.

Sadhana: a Prose Counterpart to Gitanjali

A critic signing himself ‘J.M.’ wrote a lengthy article entitled ‘Ex Oriente Lux’ for The Birmingham Daily Post on 6 December 1913. He begins as follows:

During the last three or four months the Bengali poems of Rabindranath Tagore, translated by himself into English, have been attracting in an extraordinary manner the attention of the reading public. Their excellence has been praised again and again in newspaper and magazine, with no dissentient voice. Just when the readers of literary reviews were beginning to get over their surprise that translations of Asiatic poems should be greeted as masterpieces of English literature, the award of the Nobel prize to their author revealed the fact that his reputation was not confined within the limits of England, but had overflowed to the European Continent, where his poems must have been chiefly read in the form of translations of translations.[132]

Later in the piece, J.M. writes that ‘the “Gitanjali” is pervaded by the deeply religious spirit that came when advancing years brought the philosophic mind. A prose counterpart to the “Gitanjali” is provided by the “Sadhana,” [...] so that it is well to study the two works side by side’.[133] After comparing Gitanjali to Wordsworth, Shelley and Tennyson, J.M. likens Sadhana to Tennyson’s ‘Palace of Art’, but declares that ‘it is above all with Wordsworth that Mr. Tagore is in agreement’, with their ‘extremely optimistic view of nature’, and their sharing the same ideas on duty and on ‘nature as Love’. But J.M. is careful to point out that this similarity is not due to imitation, ‘for the poetical metaphysic of the “Gitanjali” is clearly traced in the “Sadhana” to its origin in the “Upanishads,” the wisdom of which the poet at an early age imbibed from his father’s teaching’. After this J.M. has nothing further to say on Sadhana, but continues his discourse with further comparisons between ‘Mr. Tagore’s translations of his Bengali poems’ and examples of poetic form from America, the Bible and the Sanskrit epics. In conclusion he suggests that Tagore’s success indicates that the English language may be the medium of ‘a great renaissance of national literature [...] in India’.[134]

In subsequent press comments on Sadhana, the tendency continues whereby writers refer to Tagore’s reputation for Gitanjali and the Nobel prize, and the ‘revival of mysticism’ associated with Tagore, and not to what he wrote in the essays in the book. Overall the comments on Sadhana were favourable but one can still detect in them what might be called a ‘spectrum of condescension’. Even when a review contains quotations from the book for approving comment, the writer will then enlarge on his own opinion, not on what Tagore had to say, as if there was not – and could not be – anything new or important from such a source. The more obviously critical or dismissive commentators hark back to Britain’s ‘civilising mission’ in the colonies, and scold Tagore for not showing his gratitude.

The coupling of Sadhana with Gitanjali has more to it than Tagore’s image as poet and mystic and the opinions of reviewers. It also had a commercial aspect. A report appeared in the British press in April 1914 about the sales of Tagore’s books:

Some remarkable figures have been reached by Messers Macmillan in the sale of the four translations they have published of works by Rabindranath Tagore. ‘Gitanjali’ is in its twenty-fourth thousand, and selling steadily; ‘The Gardener’ is in its ninth thousand; ‘The Crescent Moon’ is in its seventh; and the philosophical volume: entitled ‘Sadhana’ in its sixth. These would be notable sales for any books of pure literature. In all the circumstances they are probably without parallel.[135]

Aronson writes that 12,000 books were published in England in 1913, a ‘strange assortment’ with politics, biography and light fiction predominating – and ‘a solitary volume of poems translated into English by a writer practically unknown to the British public’. Aronson repeats a suggestion made at the time that, 1913 being an ‘uneventful year’, the reading public ‘was ready to welcome any kind of exotic literary adventure’, and then he discusses other possibilities, and also the shock to the intelligentsia of the Nobel Prize going ‘to an Indian’. Then Aronson suggests that the key factor was Yeats’ introduction to Gitanjali, and remarks how many editorials on the Nobel Prize reproduced Yeats’ words, without any further comment on Tagore’s work.[136] Aronson makes no mention of Sadhana, at this point, or later in his book, apart from listing in a bibliography its translations into seven other languages.[137]

Macmillan’s figure of six thousand copies of Sadhana is impressive, but one would not expect it to match the sales achieved for Gitanjali in a single year. However Hay, in his work on Tagore’s reception in Asia, writes that after the Nobel Prize made Tagore internationally famous, translations from his English writings poured from the presses in Japan and ‘three thousand copies of Sadhana [...] were sold in the first two days of its publication’.[138]

Returning to my theme of how Tagore was received in the West, particularly the way he was seen as the Indian saint and mystic, it is interesting to consider whether Yeats was instrumental in constructing such an image through his introduction to Gitanjali.[139] One might criticise Yeats for not being suitably scholarly: for including in his Part I so much hearsay (Yeats uses that word) about Tagore’s life, literature and fame in his own country, then in Part II for musing on the qualities of the original lyrics and likening Tagore to European saints, although it is good that he mentions that Tagore was best known for his songs, and that there was music to these lyrics. In Part III Yeats observes how Tagore with these poems provides relief from western money and politics, and Yeats quotes from the poems to highlight their themes of humble lives, nature and children.

A report in The Christian Commonwealth of an interview with Tagore gives an indication of how Yeats’ introduction was perhaps not the culprit:

Mr. W. B. Yeats writes a glowing appreciation of the poems, but, indeed, they need no commendation even from a brother poet; they are so transparently startlingly the product of genius that one cannot withhold homage. Few writers in English have achieved such perfect mastery of the rhythm and colour of words, or have succeeded so well in rendering the faint, far-off fragrance, the dream-like beauty and delicacy of what one feels to be the loftiest mysticism.[140]

Much of the material for the report evidently came from ‘a young Indian gentleman who chanced to be present’ when Tagore was called away from the interview. ‘With a gentle-voiced reverent enthusiasm’, this informer provided more of the kind of ‘hearsay’ Yeats had picked up.[141] Then from what Tagore himself told him about his school, the reporter gathered that it was a kind of ‘nature monastery’ providing a training on spiritual lines and with no system, and so must be a ‘schoolboys’ paradise’.[142]

It evidently did not come across to the writer that Tagore intended his school to be a model of an alternative to conventional education.[143] For Tagore, spirituality was an essential quality of human life. Spiritual verses, like those in Gitanjali, were songs with a purpose in Tagore’s school, where they were sung in the mornings and evenings by groups of boys going around the school. Ramsay Macdonald paid a visit to the school which he described very fully in a report in The Daily Chronicle in January 1914.[144] Pearson’s book with Tagore’s introduction and Pearson’s account similar to Ramsay Macdonald’s was published several years later, in 1917.[145] Until the practicality and relevance of Tagore’s educational initiatives could be understood, Tagore would continue to be seen as saint and mystic, and it would be a shock when the poet voiced his very adamant political opinions in Nationalism in 1917.

However, perhaps because of the misunderstandings, because the reading public ‘was ready to welcome any kind of exotic literary adventure’, Tagore had become a celebrity, and he would for some years have opportunities to address the world. Perhaps more importantly for him, he had the Nobel Prize money, and royalties were coming in, which all went towards funding and expanding his school.

The Sadhana Essays

Focussing on the Gitanjali-Sadhana story has shown how Tagore was given the opportunity to speak to the western world. He had not planned his first series of lectures, and as he tells us in his Preface to Sadhana, the material came from his talks to the students at his school. I suggested earlier that the first essay begins with intimations of Tagore’s ‘deep anthropology’, where he contrasts ‘two different points of view’: the Indian tradition of living in the forests and being in harmony with nature, and the western tradition of living in cities separated from nature. The former led to a ‘spirit of sympathy, with a large feeling of joy and peace’, the latter to ‘scientific curiosity or greed of material advantage’.[146]

All through his life Tagore understood the world, and his own mission, through that simple story. He had told it to the boys from Calcutta families, sent from their urban homes to his school in the countryside, where they were allowed to run around and climb trees, and Tagore hoped it would be equally relevant to his urban audiences in America.[147] It would seem though that western audiences and readers expected mysticism and esoteric teachings from Tagore, arguably a continuation of the orientalism exposed by Edward Said, and discussed by Srinivas Aravamudan in his book Guru English.[148]

Another way to read Tagore’s Sadhana talks is to compare the anthropology intimated in the first part of ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’ with the anthropology of the German philosopher Feuerbach, particularly in the latter’s major work The Essence of Christianity. The German professor of philosophy Karl Löwith summarises Feuerbach’s contribution to the revolution in nineteenth-century thought as to ‘dethrone the “self”—this “only spirit which exists”—which has dominated the world ever since the beginning of the Christian era, thereby eliminating the dualism of sensuous world and supersensual religion, as well as that of church and state’.[149] Feuerbach’s challenge to philosophy and religion had a profound effect on Karl Marx, prompting one of his best known sayings: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’.[150] Feuerbach challenged ideas but did not try to change the world. Tagore’s challenge to ideas is present in Sadhana, in a typically mild form – although he showed himself capable of polemics some years later in Nationalism. The way to read the Sadhana essays is as advice based on the Upanisads, the ‘system of intelligent monism’.

Tagore hoped his boys at his school would feel free to learn by exploring their surroundings, using their natural curiosity and creativity, instead of seeing school as a place to get qualifications for competing in the job market. Similarly, the idea was growing in Tagore’s mind that he might liberate adults from their urban, industrial and institutional prisons. Stephen Hay writes that the happiest time Tagore spent in the U.S.A. was in a small university town, in the Midwestern plains, which may have inspired him to dream of founding his own university on the plains of Bengal – a plan which he put into effect in 1921.[151] All he had to offer in 1912 was words of wisdom.

Edward Thompson has written that ‘the necessity of the East to the West to each other’ was ‘a master-theme of [Tagore’s] whole life’.[152] Tagore saw this as a two-way exchange, but Sadhana can give the impression that he was simply bringing Eastern spirituality as a remedy for Western materialism. In the last part of ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’ Tagore brings in several passages by the ‘rishis’ (sages) of ancient India, authors of the Upanisads.[153] The sense of the esoteric, enhanced in the book with footnotes giving the passages in the original Sanskrit, evidently appealed to his ‘Western readers’, although it is hard to see how it provided the kind of ‘real help’ Tagore had in mind.

Tagore’s religious thought and his practical projects are intimately connected. In the Sadhana essays as published, apart from his mention of his school in the Preface, Tagore makes no concrete connections between the religious ideas and social change, although we know he had strong ideas he had been trying to put into practice for twenty years. When Tagore established his university, the students and teachers were encouraged to make connections with people in the surrounding villages, and some of them participated in the rural reconstruction projects, but the only mention of village people in Sadhana is to the ascetics from a religious sect in a village of Bengal.[154]

The religious ideas are given in particularly concentrated form in the second essay, ‘Soul Consciousness’, and the one mention of society is: ‘This principle of unity which man has in his soul is ever active, establishing relations far and wide through literature, art, and science, society, statecraft, and religion’.[155]

There are essays in the book which reward close study. ‘The Problem of Evil’ is particularly thought provoking, and could contribute to changes in attitudes, such as avoiding judgements, and accepting boundaries, obstacles and loss as aspects of the totality. These ideas bring to mind the short passage on Tagore’s personalistic monism in History of Philosophy Eastern and Western referred to earlier.[156] Tagore wrote to Rothenstein about the lecture being ‘enthusiastically received’ by ‘University people’, and it was this talk which led to the suggestion of publication in a book.[157]


The Problem of Evil

The question why there is evil in existence is the same as why there is imperfection, or, in other words, why there is creation at all. We must take it for granted that it could not be otherwise; that creation must be imperfect, must be gradual, and that it is futile to ask the question, Why are we?

But this is the real question we ought to ask: Is this imperfection the final truth, is evil absolute and ultimate? The river has its boundaries, its banks, but is a river all banks? or are the banks the final facts about the river? Do not these obstructions themselves give its water an onward motion? The towing rope binds a boat, but is the bondage its meaning? Does it not at the same time draw the boat forward?

The current of the world has its boundaries, otherwise it could have no existence, but its purpose is not shown in the boundaries which restrain it, but in its movement, which is towards perfection. The wonder is not that there should be obstacles and sufferings in this world, but that there should be law [47] and order, beauty and joy, goodness and love. The idea of God that man has in his being is the wonder of all wonders. He has felt in the depths of his life that what appears as imperfect is the manifestation of the perfect; just as a man who has an ear for music realises the perfection of a song, while in fact he is only listening to a succession of notes. Man has found out the great paradox that what is limited is not imprisoned within its limits; it is ever moving, and therewith shedding its finitude every moment. In fact, imperfection is not a negation of perfectness; finitude is not contradictory to infinity: they are but completeness manifested in parts, infinity revealed within bounds.

Pain, which is the feeling of our finiteness, is not a fixture in our life. It is not an end in itself, as joy is. To meet with it is to know that it has no part in the true permanence of creation. It is what error is in our intellectual life. To go through the history of the development of science is to go through the maze of mistakes it made current at different times. Yet no one really believes that science is the one perfect mode of disseminating mistakes. The progressive ascertainment of truth is the important thing to remember in the history of science, not its innumerable mistakes. Error, by its nature, cannot be stationary; it cannot remain with truth; like a tramp, it must quit its lodging as soon as it fails to pay its score to the full. [48]

As in intellectual error, so in evil of any other form, its essence is impermanence, for it cannot accord with the whole. Every moment it is being corrected by the totality of things and keeps changing its aspect. We exaggerate its importance by imagining it as at a standstill. Could we collect the statistics of the immense amount of death and putrefaction happening every moment in this earth, they would appal us. But evil is ever moving; with all its incalculable immensity it does not effectually clog the current of our life; and we find that the earth, water, and air remain sweet and pure for living beings. All such statistics consist of our attempts to represent statistically what is in motion; and in the process things assume a weight in our mind which they have not in reality. For this reason a man, who by his profession is concerned with any particular aspect of life, is apt to magnify its proportions; in laying undue stress upon facts he loses his hold upon truth. A detective may have the opportunity of studying crimes in detail, but he loses his sense of their relative places in the whole social economy. When science collects facts to illustrate the struggle for existence that is going on in the kingdom of life, it raises a picture in our minds of “nature red in tooth and claw.” But in these mental pictures we give a fixity to colours and forms which are really evanescent. It is like calculating the weight of the air on each square inch of our [49] body to prove that it must be crushingly heavy for us. With every weight, however, there is an adjustment, and we lightly bear our burden. With the struggle for existence in nature there is reciprocity. There is the love for children and for comrades; there is the sacrifice of self, which springs from love; and this love is the positive element in life.

If we kept the search-light of our observation turned upon the fact of death, the world would appear to us like a huge charnel- house; but in the world of life the thought of death has, we find, the least possible hold upon our minds. Not because it is the least apparent, but because it is the negative aspect of life; just as, in spite of the fact that we shut our eyelids every second, it is the openings of the eyes that count. Life as a whole never takes death seriously. It laughs, dances and plays, it builds, hoards and loves in death’s face. Only when we detach one individual fact of death do we see its blankness and become dismayed. We lose sight of the wholeness of a life of which death is part. It is like looking at a piece of cloth through a microscope. It appears like a net; we gaze at the big holes and shiver in imagination. But the truth is, death is not the ultimate reality. It looks black, as the sky looks blue; but it does not blacken existence, just as the sky does not leave its stain upon the wings of the bird. [50]

When we watch a child trying to walk, we see its countless failures; its successes are but few. If we had to limit our observation within a narrow space of time, the sight would be cruel. But we find that in spite of its repeated failures there is an impetus of joy in the child which sustains it in its seemingly impossible task. We see it does not think of its falls so much as of its power to keep its balance though for only a moment.

Like these accidents in a child’s attempts to walk, we meet with sufferings in various forms in our life every day, showing the imperfections in our knowledge and our available power, and in the application of our will. But if these revealed our weakness to us only, we should die of utter depression. When we select for observation a limited area of our activities, our individual failures and miseries loom large in our minds; but our life leads us instinctively to take a wider view. It gives us an ideal of perfection which ever carries us beyond our present limitations. Within us we have a hope which always walks in front of our present narrow experience; it is the undying faith in the infinite in us; it will never accept any of our disabilities as a permanent fact; it sets no limit to its own scope; it dares to assert that man has oneness with God; and its wild dreams become true every day.

We see the truth when we set our mind towards the infinite. The ideal of truth is not in the narrow [51] present, not in our immediate sensations, but in the consciousness of the whole which give us a taste of what we should have in what we do have. Consciously or unconsciously we have in our life this feeling of Truth which is ever larger than its appearance; for our life is facing the infinite, and it is in movement. Its aspiration is therefore infinitely more than its achievement, and as it goes on it finds that no realisation of truth ever leaves it stranded on the desert of finality, but carries it to a region beyond. Evil cannot altogether arrest the course of life on the highway and rob it of its possessions. For the evil has to pass on, it has to grow into good; it cannot stand and give battle to the All. If the least evil could stop anywhere indefinitely, it would sink deep and cut into the very roots of existence. As it is, man does not really believe in evil, just as he cannot believe that violin strings have been purposely made to create the exquisite torture of discordant notes, though by the aid of statistics it can be mathematically proved that the probability of discord is far greater than that of harmony, and for one who can play the violin there are thousands who cannot. The potentiality of perfection outweighs actual contradictions. No doubt there have been people who asserted existence to be an absolute evil, but man can never take them seriously. Their pessimism is a mere pose, either intellectual or sentimental; but life itself is optimistic: it wants to go on. [52] Pessimism is a form of mental dipsomania, it disdains healthy nourishment, indulges in the strong drink of denunciation, and creates an artificial dejection which thirsts for a stronger draught. If existence were an evil, it would wait for no philosopher to prove it. It is like convicting a man of suicide, while all the time he stands before you in the flesh. Existence itself is here to prove that it cannot be an evil.

An imperfection which is not all imperfection, but which has perfection for its ideal, must go through a perpetual realisation. Thus, it is the function of our intellect to realise the truth through untruths, and knowledge is nothing but the continually burning up of error to set free the light of truth. Our will, our character, has to attain perfection by continually overcoming evils, either inside or outside us, or both; our physical life is consuming bodily materials every moment to maintain the life fire; and our moral life too has its fuel to burn. This life process is going on—we know it, we have felt it; and we have a faith which no individual instances to the contrary can shake, that the direction of humanity is from evil to good. For we feel that good is the positive element in man’s nature, and in every age and every clime what man values most is his ideals of goodness. We have known the good, we have loved it, and we have paid our highest reverence to men who have shown in their lives what goodness is. [53]

The question will be asked, What is goodness; what does our moral nature mean? My answer is, that when a man begins to have an extended vision of his true self, when he realises that he is much more than at present he seems to be, he begins to get conscious of his moral nature. Then he grows aware of that which he is yet to be, and the state not yet experienced by him becomes more real than that under his direct experience. Necessarily, his perspective of life changes, and his will takes the place of his wishes. For will is the supreme wish of the larger life, the life whose greater portion is out of our present reach, most of whose objects are not before our sight. Then comes the conflict of our lesser man with our greater man, of our wishes with our will, of the desire for things affecting our senses with the purpose that is within our heart. Then we begin to distinguish between what we immediately desire and what is good. For good is that which is desirable for our greater self. Thus the sense of goodness comes out of a truer view of our life, which is the connected view of the wholeness of the field of life, and which takes into account not only what is present before us but what is not, and perhaps never humanly can be. Man, who is provident, feels for that life of his which is not yet existent, feels much more for that than for the life that is with him; therefore he is ready to sacrifice his present inclination for the unrealised future. In [54] this he becomes great, for he realises truth. Even to be efficiently selfish one has to recognise this truth, and has to curb his immediate impulses—in other words, has to be moral. For our moral faculty is the faculty by which we know that life is not made up of fragments, purposeless and discontinuous. This moral sense of man not only gives him the power to see that the self has a continuity in time, but it also enables him to see that he is not true when he is only restricted to his own self. He is more in truth than he is in fact. He truly belongs to individuals who are not included in his own individuality, and whom he is never even likely to know. As he has a feeling for his future self which is outside his present consciousness, so he has a feeling for his greater self which is outside the limits of his personality. There is no man who has not this feeling to some extent, who has never sacrificed his selfish desire for the sake of some other person, who has never felt a pleasure in undergoing some loss or trouble because it pleased somebody else. It is a truth that man is not a detached being, that he has a universal aspect; and when he recognises this, he becomes great. Even the most evilly-disposed selfishness has to recognise this when it seeks the power to do evil; for it cannot ignore truth and yet be strong. So in order to claim the aid of truth, selfishness has to be unselfish to some extent. A band of robbers must be moral [55] in order to hold together as a band; they may rob the whole world but not each other. To make an immoral intention successful, some of its weapons must be moral. In fact, very often it is our very moral strength which gives us most effectively the power to do evil, to exploit other individuals for our own benefit, to rob other people of their just rights. The life of an animal is unmoral, for it is aware only of an immediate present; the life of a man can be immoral, but that only means that it must have a moral basis. What is immoral is imperfectly moral, just as what is false is true to a small extent, or it cannot even be false. Not to see is to be blind, but to see wrongly is to see only in an imperfect manner. Man’s selfishness is a beginning to see some connection, some purpose in life; and to act in accordance with its dictates requires self-restraint and regulation of conduct. A selfish man willingly undergoes troubles for the sake of the self, he suffers hardship and privation without a murmur, simply because he knows that what is pain and trouble, looked at from the point of view of a short space of time, are just the opposite when seen in a larger perspective. Thus what is a loss to the smaller man is a gain to the greater, and vice versa.

To the man who lives for an idea, for his country, for the good of humanity, life has an extensive meaning, and to that extent pain becomes less important to him. To live the life of goodness is to [56] live the life of all. Pleasure is for one’s own self, but goodness is concerned with the happiness of all humanity and for all time. From the point of view of the good, pleasure and pain appear in a different meaning; so much so, that pleasure may be shunned, and pain be courted in its place, and death itself be made welcome as giving a higher value to life. From these higher standpoints of a man’s life, the standpoints of the good, pleasure and pain lose their absolute value. Martyrs prove it in history, and we prove it every day in our life in our little martyrdoms. When we take a pitcherful of water from the sea it has its weight, but when we take a dip into the sea itself a thousand pitchersful of water flow above our head, and we do not feel their weight. We have to carry the pitcher of self with our strength; and so, while on the plane of selfishness pleasure and pain have their full weight, on the moral plane they are so much lightened that the man who has reached it appears to us almost superhuman in his patience under crushing trails, and his forbearance in the face of malignant persecution.

To live in perfect goodness is to realise one’s life in the infinite. This is the most comprehensive view of life which we can have by our inherent power of the moral vision of the wholeness of life. And the teaching of Buddha is to cultivate this moral power to the highest extent, to know that our field of activities is not bound to the plane of our [57] narrow self. This is the vision of the heavenly kingdom of Christ. When we attain to that universal life, which is the moral life, we become freed from the bonds of pleasure and pain, and the place vacated by our self becomes filled with an unspeakable joy which springs from measureless love. In this state the soul’s activity is all the more heightened, only its motive power is not from desires, but in its own joy. This is the Karma-yoga of the Gita, the way to become one with the infinite activity by the exercise of the activity of disinterested goodness.

When Buddha meditated upon the way of releasing mankind from the grip of misery he came to this truth: that when man attains his highest end by merging the individual in the universal, he becomes free from the thraldom of pain. Let us consider this point more fully.

A student of mine once related to me his adventure in a storm, and complained that all the time he was troubled with the feeling that this great commotion in nature behaved to him as if he were no more than a mere handful of dust. That he was a distinct personality with a will of his own had not the least influence upon what was happening.

I said, “If consideration for our individuality could sway nature from her path, then it would be the individuals who would suffer most.”

But he persisted in his doubt, saying that there was this fact which could not be ignored—the feeling [58] that I am. The “I” in us seeks for a relation which is individual to it.

I replied that the relation of the “I” is with something which is “not-I.” So we must have a medium which is common to both, and we must be absolutely certain that it is the same to the “I” as it is to the “not-I.”

This is what needs repeating here. We have to keep in mind that our individuality by its nature is impelled to seek for the universal. Our body can only die if it tries to eat its own substance, and our eye loses the meaning of its function if it can only see itself.

Just as we find that the stronger the imagination the less is it merely imaginary and the more is it in harmony with truth, so we see the more vigorous our individuality the more does it widen towards the universal. For the greatness of a personality is not in itself but in its content, which is universal, just as the depth of a lake is judged not by the size of its cavity but by the depth of its water.

So, if it is a truth that the yearning of our nature is for reality, and that our personality cannot be happy with a fantastic universe of its own creation, then it is clearly best for it that our will can only deal with things by following their law, and cannot do with them just as it pleases. This unyielding sureness of reality sometimes crosses our will, and very often leads us to disaster, just as the firmness of [59] the earth invariably hurts the falling child who is learning to walk. Nevertheless it is the same firmness that hurts him which makes his walking possible. Once, while passing under a bridge, the mast of my boat got stuck in one of its girders. If only for a moment the mast would have bent an inch or two, or the bridge raised its back like a yawning cat, or the river given in, it would have been all right with me. But they took no notice of my helplessness. That is the very reason why I could make use of the river, and sail upon it with the help of the mast, and that is why, when its current was inconvenient, I could rely upon the bridge. Things are what they are, and we have to know them if we would deal with them, and knowledge of them is possible because our wish is not their law. This knowledge is a joy to us, for the knowledge is one of the channels of our relation with the things outside us; it is making them our own, and thus widening the limit of our self.

At every step we have to take into account others than ourselves. For only in death are we alone. A poet is a true poet when he can make his personal idea joyful to all men, which he could not do if he had not a medium common to all his audience. This common language has its own law which the poet must discover and follow, by doing which he becomes true and attains poetical immortality.

We see then that man’s individuality is not his [60] highest truth; there is that in him which is universal. If he were made to live in a world where his own self was the only factor to consider, then that would be the worst prison imaginable to him, for man’s deepest joy is in growing greater and greater by more and more union with the all. This, as we have seen, would be an impossibility if there were no law common to all. Only by discovering the law and following it, do we become great, do we realise the universal; while, so long as our individual desires are at conflict with the universal law, we suffer pain and are futile.

There was a time when we prayed for special concessions, we expected that the laws of nature should be held in abeyance for our own convenience. But now we know better. We know that law cannot be set aside, and in this knowledge we have become strong. For this law is not something apart from us; it is our own. The universal power which is manifested in the universal law is one with our own power. It will thwart us where we are small, where we are against the current of things; but it will help us where we are great, where we are in unison with the all. Thus, through the help of science, as we come to know more of the laws of nature, we gain in power; we tend to attain a universal body. Our organ of sight, our organ of locomotion, our physical strength becomes world-wide; steam and electricity become our nerve and muscle. Thus we [61] find that, just as throughout our bodily organisation there is a principle of relation by virtue of which we can call the entire body our own, and can use it as such, so all through the universe there is that principle of uninterrupted relation by virtue of which we can call the whole world our extended body and use it accordingly. And in this age of science it is our endeavour fully to establish our claim to our world-self. We know all our poverty and sufferings are owing to our inability to realise this legitimate claim of ours. Really, there is no limit to our powers, for we are not outside the universal power which is the expression of universal law. We are on our way to overcome disease and death, to conquer pain and poverty; for through scientific knowledge we are ever on our way to realise the universal in its physical aspect. And as we make progress we find that pain, disease, and poverty of power are not absolute, but that is only the want of adjustment of our individual self to our universal self which gives rise to them.

It is the same with our spiritual life. When the individual man in us chafes against the lawful rule of the universal man we become morally small, and we must suffer. In such a condition our successes are our greatest failures, and the very fulfilment of our desires leaves us poorer. We hanker after special gains for ourselves, we want to enjoy privileges which none else can share with us. But [62] everything that is absolutely special must keep up a perpetual warfare with what is general. In such a state of civil war man always lives behind barricades, and in any civilisation which is selfish our homes are not real homes, but artificial barriers around us. Yet we complain that we are not happy, as if there were something inherent in the nature of things to make us miserable. The universal spirit is waiting to crown us with happiness, but our individual spirit would not accept it. It is our life of the self that causes conflicts and complications everywhere, upsets the normal balance of society and gives rise to miseries of all kinds. It brings things to such a pass that to maintain order we have to create artificial coercions and organised forms of tyranny, and tolerate infernal institutions in our midst, whereby at every moment humanity is humiliated.

We have seen that in order to be powerful we have to submit to the laws of the universal forces, and to realise in practice that they are our own. So, in order to be happy, we have to submit our individual will to the sovereignty of the universal will, and to feel in truth that it is our own will. When we reach that state wherein the adjustment of the finite in us to the infinite is made perfect, then pain itself becomes a valuable asset. It becomes a measuring rod with which to gauge the true value of our joy.

The most important lesson that man can learn [63] from his life is not that there is pain in this world, but that it depends upon him to turn it into good account, that it is possible for him to transmute it into joy. The lesson has not been lost altogether to us, and there is no man living who would willingly be deprived of his right to suffer pain, for that is his right to be a man. One day the wife of a poor labourer complained bitterly to me that her eldest boy was going to be sent away to a rich relative’s house for part of the year. It was the implied kind intention of trying to relieve her of her trouble that gave her the shock, for a mother’s trouble is a mother’s own by her inalienable right of love, and she was not going to surrender it to any dictates of expediency. Man’s freedom is never in being saved troubles, but it is the freedom to take trouble for his own good, to make the trouble an element in his joy. It can be made so only when we realise that our individual self is not the highest meaning of our being, that in us we have the world-man who is immortal, who is not afraid of death or sufferings, and who looks upon pain as only the other side of joy. He who has realised this knows that it is pain which is our true wealth as imperfect beings, and has made us great and worthy to take our seat with the perfect. He knows that we are not beggars; that it is the hard coin which must be paid for everything valuable in this life, for our power, our wisdom, our love; that in pain is symbolised the infinite [64] possibility of perfection, the eternal unfolding of joy; and the man who loses all pleasure in accepting pain sinks down and down to the lowest depth of penury and degradation. It is only when we invoke the aid of pain for our self-gratification that she becomes evil and takes her vengeance for the insult done to her by hurling us into misery. For she is the vestal virgin consecrated to the service of the immortal perfection, and when she takes her true place before the altar of the infinite she casts off her dark veil and bares her face to the beholder as a revelation of supreme joy.


[1] Tagore, ‘Realisation in Action’, in Sadhana: The Realisation of Life (London: Macmillan, 1915 [1913]), pp. 117-34 (p. 133).

[2] Viktors Ivbulis, ‘Tagore’s Western Burdens’, p. 161.

[3] Uma Das Gupta, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme, 1921-41’, Indian Historical Review, 4 (1978), 354-78 (pp. 377-8).

[4] Uma Das Gupta, Santiniketan and Sriniketan: A Historical Introduction, A Visva-Bharati Quarterly Booklet (Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati University, 1977), pp. 54-5.

[5] Tagore, ‘Letter RT to H.E., The Viceroy’, The Dartington Hall Trust Archive, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE India, LKE/IN/25 Folder A, ‘Visva-Bharati correspondence’. Appendix 1, p. 178.

[6] Tagore, letter to Lord Irwin, 14 February 1930, in Krishna Dutta and Andrew Robinson, eds., Selected Letters of Rabindranath Tagore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 370-1.

[7] Tagore, ‘Author’s Preface’, in Sadhana, pp. vii-ix (p. vii).

[8] ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, p. 12.

[9] Tagore, letter to C.F. Andrews, 9 July 1921, in Letters to a Friend, ed. by C.F. Andrews (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928), pp. 180-1. (This work consists of letters written by Tagore to Andrews in 1913-22, with a Preface and two essays by Andrews.)

[10] ‘On the Eve of Departure’, pp. 158-9.

[11] Tagore, ‘My School’, in Personality, pp. 109-48.

[12] Tagore, ‘An Eastern University’, in Creative Unity, pp. 167-203.

[13] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp. 7-8 (p. 7); also Appendix II, pp. 222-5 (p. 225).

[14] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans by George Eliot (New York: haroer Torchbooks, 1957 [1944])

[15] ‘My School’, pp. 112-13.

[16] ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, p. 1.

[17] Sadhana, p. 4.

[18] Peter J.Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 9-10.

[19] Wilson, ‘The Surrealities of Power’, pp. 117-50.

[20] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari What is Philosophy? , trans. by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill (London: Verso, 1994), p. 4.

[21] Tagore, ‘Race Conflict’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 359-63. Notes, p. 973.

[22] Wilson, p. ix.

[23] Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography, p. 176.

[24] J.M., ‘Literature of the Day: Ex Oriente Lux’, 6 December, The Birmingham Daily Post, Imagining Tagore, pp. 107-9, p. 108. [It has not been possible to identify ‘J.M.’ from a search of newspaper archives.]

[25] Tagore, Gitanjali (Song Offerings), trans. by William Radice (New Delhi: Penguin, 2011)

[26] Radice, Introduction, in Gitanjali (2011), pp. xv-lxxxiv (p. xxiii).

[27] Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems, trans. by William Radice (London: Penguin Classics, 2005); I Won’t Let You Go: Selected Poems, trans. by Ketaki Kushari Dyson (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1991)

[28] Tagore, ‘Gitanjali’, in Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1962 [1936]), pp. 1-48. Radice, ‘A Note on the Texts’, in Gitanjali (2011), pp. lxxxv-lxxxvi (p. lxxxv). I also have Gitanjali in Volume One of the English Writings edited by Sisir Kumar Das, pp. 37-78. The work is also available online.

[29] Kalyan Sircar, Introduction, in Imagining Tagore, pp. xi-lvi (p. xvii).

[30] W.W. Pearson, ‘Shantiniketan’, in Shantiniketan: The Bolpur School of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1917), pp. 11-53.

[31] Tagore, ‘Author’s Preface’, in Sadhana, pp. vii-ix (p. vii).

[32] Krishna Dutta, ‘Journey with Tagore’, in A Timeless Mind, pp. 84-92 (p. 84).

[33] Amartya Sen, ‘Tagore and His India’ (1997), in The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity (London: Allen Lane, 2005), pp. 89-120 (p. 89).

[34] Sen (p. 89.) was making a general remark and using ‘the West’ in a loose sense. We know that Tagore has continued to be appreciated in Eastern Europe. (Ivbulis, p. 155.)

[35] William Radice, Introduction, in Rabindranath Tagore: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems, ed. and trans. by William Radice (London: Angel, 2001), pp. 1-33 (p. 26).

[36] Radice, pp. 27-8.

[37] Tagore, ‘Patriotism’, in My Reminiscences, pp. 139-49 (pp. 139-40).

[38] Tagore, Of Myself (Atmaparichay), trans. by Devadatta Joardar and Joe Winter (London: Anvuil, 2006), pp. 80-1.

[39] Tagore, ‘Bangalir asa o nairasya’ (The hope and despair of the Bengalis), Bharati, [January-February, 1878], quoted in Stephen N. Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West: Tagore and his Critics in Japan, China, and India (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 21, Notes, p. 339.

[40] ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, pp. 3-5.

[41] Sircar, p. xvi.

[42] Hay, pp 13-14.

[43] Gavin Flood, ‘Sacred Writings’, in Themes and Issues in Hinduism, ed. by Paul Bowen (London: Cassell, 1998), pp. 132-60 (pp. 151-2).

[44] Tagore, ‘The Sunset of the Century’, in Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1921), pp. 133-5 (p. 133).

[45] Tagore, ‘East and West’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 129-140 (pp. 139-40).

[46] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66. Notes, pp. 367-8.

[47] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, pp. 49-50.

[48] Sisir Kumar Das, Introduction, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 13-24 (pp. 16-17).

[49] What Tagore meant by ‘nation’ and ‘nationalism’ has been a ‘bone of contention’ amongst Tagore scholars, some of whom want to narrow his critique of the nation to the nation-state, and others make Tagore a nationalist in his own special sense. Das Gupta writes that Tagore’s ‘lifelong endeavour with education in a remote corner of rural Bengal was intimately connected with his ideals of a non-parochial and “inclusive” nationalism’. (Das Gupta, Introduction, in The Oxford India Tagore: Selected Writings on Education and Nationalism (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. xix-xxxvi (p. xxi.))

[50] ‘The Protest of a Seer’, review, The Times Literary Supplement, 13 September 1917, Imagining Tagore, pp. 289-91.

[51] Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times (Totnes, Devon: Green Books, 2011)

[52] See Anjan Chakrabarti and Stephen Cullenburg, ‘Development and Class Transition in India’, in Re/Presenting Class: Essays in Postmodern Marxism, ed. by J. K. Gibson-Graham, Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), as discussed in Christine Marsh, ‘The Once and Future Village: From Tagore’s Rural Reconstruction to Transition Towns’, in Contemporarising Tagore and the World, ed. by Imtiaz Ahmed, Muchkund Dubey and Veena Sikri (Dhaka: University Press, 2013), pp. 407-22. (pp. 415-6).

[53] Tagore, ‘The Teacher’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 165-80 (p. 170).

[54] Devendranath Tagore, The Autobiography of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, trans. by Satyendranath Tagore and Indira Devi (London: Macmillan, 1916), p. 160.

[55] Devendranath Tagore, pp. 66-7.

[56] Anuradha Roma Choudhury, ‘Worship’, in Themes and Issues in Hinduism, pp. 203-29 (pp. 219-23).

[57] Tagore, ‘Mahatma Gandhi’, in Tagore on Gandhi (New Delhi: Rupa, 2008), pp. 8-18 (p. 8).

[58] Tagore, ‘My Family and the Changing Times’, in Uma Das Gupta, Rabindranath Tagore: My Life in My Words (New Delhi: Penguin, 2010), pp. 3-14 (pp. 8-9).

[59] Tagore, ‘On Religion’, in Uma Das Gupta, Rabindranath Tagore: My Life in My Words, pp. 319-27 (p. 319).

[60] Kripalani, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography, p. 117.

[61] Tagore, The Religion of Man, p. 225.

[62] ‘[A]ware of the underlying unity of all being [...] those early Indian thinkers elaborated a system of intelligent monism which has been accepted as most illuminating and inherently true by their descendents throughout the centuries’ (Robert Ernest Hume, ‘An Outline of the Philosophy of the Upanishads’, in The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit, ed. by Robert Ernest Hume, (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), pp. 1-72 (pp. 1-2).)

[63] P.T. Raju, ‘Contemporary Indian Thought’, in History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, Volume One, ed. by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1952), pp. 526-36 (p. 532).

[64] Raju. p. 526.

[65] M.P. Christanand, The Philosophy of Indian Monotheism (Delhi: Macmillan Company of India, 1979), p. 28. (Quote from Govinda Das, Hinduism (Madras: Natesan, 1924), p. 45.)

[66] I discuss Tagore’s interest in the evolution of man and society in later chapters. I have adopted Tagore’s practice of referring to human being as ‘man’ because the equivalent in Bengali (manush) is not gendered (the same is true of ‘man(n)’ in Old English) and substituting ‘politically correct’ alternatives is awkward.

[67] Choudhury, p. 203.

[68] Choudhury, pp. 209-13.

[69] Choudhury, pp. 208-9.

[70] Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003 [1978]), p. 3.

[71] Contemporary Indian Philosophy, ed. by S. Radhakrishnan and J. H. Muirhead (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1952)

[72] Foreword, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, pp. 13-17 (pp. 15-6).

[73] ‘M.K. Gandhi’, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, p. 21.

[74] Tagore, ‘The Religion of an Artist’, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, pp. 25-45.

[75] Tagore, ‘The Vision’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 90-109 (p. 90).

[76] P.T. Raju, ‘Contemporary Indian Thought’, p. 532.

[77] ‘I have no special claim to knowledge of philosophy. If there is a debate about, say, monism and dualism, I will not respond.’ (Tagore, Of Myself, p. 22.)

[78] Ezra Pound, letter to Harriet Monroe, 22 May 1913, in The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, ed. by D.D. Paige (London: Faber and Faber, [n.d.]), p. 55.

[79] Tagore’s active life is described, for example, by Leonard Elmhirst in his Preface to Rabindranath Tagore, Pioneer in Education: Essays and Exchanges between Rabindranath Tagore and Leonard Elmhirst (London: John Murray, 1961), pp. 9-17 (pp. 9-10).

[80] ‘Thoughts from Rabindranath Tagore’, in A Tagore Reader, ed. by Amiya Chakravarty (London: Macmillan, 1961), pp. 276-9 (p. 276).

[81] Tagore, quoted in Radice, p. 2.

[82] Radice, p. 2.

[83] Radice, p. 25.

[84] William Radice, comment made during the Panel Discussion, at the conference ‘Revisiting Rabindranath’ organised by the Tagore Centre UK, 6-8 May 2011.

[85] Tagore, Part I, in Of Myself, pp. 17-35 (p. 17).

[86] Part I, in Of Myself, p. 34.

[87] From an entry in travel diaries in the ‘Leonard Elmhirst Papers’ in the Dartington Archive.

[88] Radice, p. 30.

[89] Das Gupta, Acknowledgements, in Oxford India Tagore, pp. xi-xii.

[90] Radice, p. 21.

[91] E.J. Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work, p. 70.

[92] Ashis Nandy, ‘Violence and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century: Rabindranath Tagore and the Problem of Testimony’, p. 278.

[93] Notes, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany , pp. 967-1013 (p. 967).

[94] Viktors Ivbulis, ‘Only Western influence? The birth of literary Romantic aesthetics in Bengal’, Acta Orientalia Vilnensia, 9.2 (2008) 145-157.

[95] Ivbulis, p. 156.

[96] Studies have suggested that poets are affective rather than conceptual thinkers, and that feelings and emotions are closely associated with how the brain functions (David Gelernter, in The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought (New York: Free, 1994); Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain (London: Heinemann, 2003)) These ideas are also relevant to the evolution of human cognition as studied by Merlin Donald and others, which I discuss elsewhere in this book, in the context of Tagore’s interest in evolution and the sciences.

[97] Uma Das Gupta, ‘Rabindranath Tagore on Rural Reconstruction: The Sriniketan Programme, 1921-41’, p. 364.

[98] Tagore, ‘Society and State’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 49-66; ‘City and Village’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 302-22.

[99] K.R. Kripalani, ‘The Poet as Educationalist’, in Tagore Birthday Number, Visva-Bharati Quarterly Vol. VII, Parts I & II, May-Oct. 1941., pp. 225-234 (pp. 226-7).

[100] Kripalani, pp. 229.

[101] ‘On the Eve of Departure’ p. 373.

[102] Chakravarty, A Tagore Reader, p. 256.

[103] Notes, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume TWO: Plays, Stories, Essays, pp. 763-75 (p. 770). There was no announcement of its publication, and no reviews in the British Press, until December 1913 (Imagining Tagore, pp. 622-3).

[104] Rathindranath [sic] Tagore, On the Edges of Time, pp. 123-4.

[105] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, p. 469.

[106] Dutta and Robinson, Myriad-Minded Man, p. 171.

[107] Such as the delightful ‘Parting’ by Tagore, in Pearson, Shantiniketan, pp. 107-111.

[108] Amiya Chakravarty, Preface, in A. Aronson, Rabindranath Through Western Eyes (Allahabad: Kitabistan, 1943), pp. v-viii (p. vii).

[109] Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study, p. 122.

[110] Tagore, ‘Author’s Preface’, in Sadhana, pp. vii-ix (p. ix).

[111] Imagining Tagore, pp. 31-55.

[112] Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work, pp. 20-1).

[113] Imagining Tagore, p. 35.

[114] Dutta and Robinson discuss the rumour that ‘Yeats had rewritten Gitanjali’ (Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 183-4).

[115] ‘God knows I didn’t ask for the job of correcting Tagore. He asked me to.’ (Ezra Pound,letter to Harriet Monroe, 22 May 1913, in The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941, p. 55.)

[116] Thompson, Rabindranath Tagore: His Life and Work, p. 44. The notes to Gitanjali in English Writings One: Poems details Andrews’ slight involvement and Yeats’ annoyance over the alterations Andrews had made. (Notes, pp. 601-17 (p. 602).) See also Selected Letters, pp. 104-5.

[117] Yeats’s enthusiasm may well have been connected to Yeats’s interest in the occult. (Edward Larrisy, Introduction, in W.B. Yeats: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. xv-xxix (p. xvii).)

[118] Thompson, pp. 44-6.

[119] Thompson, p. 46.

[120] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp. 7-8.

[121] I mentioned earlier that my preferred term for Tagore’s ‘one theme’ is ‘deep anthropology’, which we come back to when Tagore’s interest in anthropology as such is encountered, in Personality in particular.

[122] Amiya Chakravarty, Preface, in Rabindranath Through Western Eyes, pp. v-viii (p. v).

[123] Introduction, in Imagining Tagore, pp. lii-liii.

[124] Publisher’s Note, in Imagining Tagore, p. vii.

[125] Imagining Tagore, pp. 55-62.

[126] There are four articles on The Post Office in the recent collection of thirty articles in Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind.

[127] Imagining Tagore, pp. 65-70.

[128] Imagining Tagore, pp. 70-73.

[129] This report in The Daily Chronicle is the first of sixteen on the Nobel Prize which appeared on 14 November 1913, listed alphabetically by name of publication, in Imagining Tagore, pp. 76-89. Reports of the award continued up to 6 December when the first mention of Sadhana appeared.

[130] Reports of Nobel Prize award on 14 November, including ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ by Ernest Rhys, Imagining Tagore, pp. 76-89 (pp. 84-6).

[131] J.M., ‘Literature of the Day: Ex Oriente Lux’, 6 December, The Birmingham Daily Post, Imagining Tagore, pp. 107-9.

[132] J.M., p. 107.

[133] J.M., p. 108.

[134] J.M., p. 109.

[135] ‘Literary and Dramatic Notes’, Western Daily Press, 11 April 1914, Imagining Tagore, p. 158.

[136] Aronson, pp. 1-4. (As a small piece of evidence of the ‘Yeats factor’, I can report that my copy of Gitanjali from the thirteenth printing in 1913 is unopened after the Introduction and the first few poems.)

[137] The languages were Swedish (1914), Russian (1914), Italian (1915), Czech (1920), German (1921), Latvian (1939) and French (1940). (Aronson, Appendix B, pp. 137-53 (pp. 144-5).)

[138] Hay, p. 85.

[139] Yeats, Introduction, in Gitanjali, pp. vii-xxii.

[140] ‘The Living Voice of India’, The Christian Commonwealth, 12 May 1913, Imagining Tagore, pp. 25-9 (p. 27). [It was not possible to identify the author of this article from a search of newspaper and journal archives.]

[141] ‘The Living Voice of India’, p. 25.

[142] ‘The Living Voice of India’, p. 28.

[143] There is an extensive literature on alternative or ‘real’ education. Tagore’s work is the focus of a study by Professor José Paz, Tagore’s Educational Model and its Relation with the New School Movement (Ourense, Spain: Prof. José Paz, 2012). A book by David Gribble: Real Education: Varieties of Freedom (Bristol: Libertarian Education, 1998) includes Dartington Hall School, which was inspired by Tagore’s work.

[144] J. Ramsay Macdonald, ‘Mr. Rabindranath Tagore’s School: The “Asram” of the Great Bengali Poet’, The Daily Chronicle, 12 January 1914, Imagining Tagore, pp. 137-9.

[145] Pearson, ‘Shantiniketan’; Tagore, Introduction, in Shantiniketan, pp. 1-7.

[146] ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, pp. 3-5.

[147] Tagore wrote to Rothenstein about speaking at New York, Chicago and Boston, his talks being well received, and being urged to publish the papers in book form. (Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 14 February 1913, in Imperfect Encounter: Letters of William Rothenstein and Rabindranath Tagore 1911-1941, ed. by Mary M. Lago, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 98-9.)

[148] Srinivas Aravamudan, Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 28.

[149] Karl Löwith, From Hegel to Nietzsche: The Revolution in Nineteenth-Century Thought, trans. by David E. Green (New York: Anchor, 1967 [1941]), p. 70.

[150] Karl Marx, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, in McLellan, David, ed., Karl Marx: Selected Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 156-8 (p. 159).

[151] Stephen N. Hay, ‘Rabindranath Tagore in America’, American Quarterly, 14 (1962), 439-63 (p. 441).

[152] Edward Thompson, ‘Juvenilia’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Dramatist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991 [first pub. 1926, 2nd edn 1948]), pp. 27-34 (p. 30).

[153] ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, pp. 14-22.

[154] ‘Soul Consciousness’, in Sadhana, pp. 23-44 (pp. 32-3).

[155] ‘Soul Consciousness’, p. 28.

[156] P.T. Raju, ‘Contemporary Indian Thought’, p. 532.

[157] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 14 February 1913, in Imperfect Encounter, p. 99.